The Ultimate First-timer’s Guide to New York City

by Mrs Romance on November 14, 2013 · 41 comments

in Featured,Travel

Mr and Mrs Romance - First timer's guide to New York City

New York is one of my favourite places in the whole world.

I dreamt about visiting for years and when I finally made it there, with some very high expectations, NYC didn’t disappoint. If anything, it exceeded all my expectations and made me want to move there.

When people ask me why I love NYC, I say it’s because it has something for everyone. Whatever you want, at any time of the day, you can do it. You can also probably get it delivered.

I love NYC - Mr and Mrs Romance

It’s impossible to write an exhaustive list for New York so please leave a comment with your NYC hot tips.

Navigating NYC

Mr and Mrs Romance - Guide to navigating NYC

They say New York is an inch wide and a mile deep.

It’s a perfect description for Manhattan. Each part of the city is like a separate village and has its own personality. Have fun exploring all over the island. Some village names refer to where they are eg SoHo (south of Houston St), NoHo (north of Houston), Tribeca (triangle below Canal St), Nolita (north of Little Italy), so it’s even easier to work out where you are – providing you know the locals’ code!

Navigation tips – looking at a map:

  • Avenues run vertically. Count from 1st Ave, on the right of Manhattan, through to 12th on the left.
  • Streets run horizontally. Numbering starts Downtown in the southern end (Lower Manhattan) and counts up as you go Uptown.
  • East/West streets are labelled depending on which side of 5th Avenue they are.
  • Broadway runs diagonally across the avenues and at each intersection is a square (Union Sq, Madison Sq, Washington Sq, Lincoln Sq etc).
  • Once you get into the pointy end at the south, things cross in funny ways, eg 4th St crosses with 11th St and there are more street names.

Nb. Houston St is pronounced ‘Howston’ not ‘Hewston’, which confused me as I thought it was said the same as Houston, Texas.

The clear street system makes it so easy to know where things are.

Taxis

Taxis are cheap and easy to use. They all take card now as well. Cab fare from JFK Airport is a fixed rate and there’s a cab queue as you exit baggage claim. When you get in a cab, even if you know the street number, you have to give a cross street so they know where to go (and all cabbies know where to go, which is awesome) eg. 7th & West 11th or 56th & 8th.

When you give taxis directions like this, you always give the avenue name then the street name – so 7th & West 11th means 7th Avenue and West 11th Street.

The subway

If you’re in town for a week, buy a weekly pass. It also includes buses. When using a non-US credit card at the machine, put 99999 as your zip code.

So you don’t look like a tourist, have your ticket in hand when you go down into the station so you can swipe and go straight through the turnstiles. You don’t need your ticket to exit. Download the NYC subway app, which is really useful.

Things to do

Empire State vs Top of the Rock NYC Views

  • Empire State vs Top of the Rock – I love both and think they are very different views of the city. We’ve included links to both buildings’ websites below.
    Our tip: if you’re on a tight schedule (and hate queues), splurge and buy the Empire State Express tickets. They’re not even really that expensive and you get to queue jump everyone. Sunset is the best, and most popular time to go.
  • Walk the High Line – an abandoned rail line is now a thriving urban park. It runs from the Meatpacking district to Midtown. It runs under the Standard Hotel, where there are food carts. Buy a popsicle and enjoy the beautiful space and great views of the city.

Mr and Mrs Romance - walk the High Line in NYC

  • Get some cultureMoMA is not to be missed. it’s free from 4-8pm on Friday nights but the crowds are bigger then. You must also go to the Guggenheim and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met). If you’re not into culture, you should still go to the Met just for the rooftop views over Central Park. They usually have a special exhibition up there and there’s a small bar too.
    Your Met ticket also gives you access to the Cloisters, which is way uptown but feels like you’re not in NYC anymore. It’s really worth a visit if you have time.
  • Central Park – Stop by Wholefoods at Columbus Circle and take a picnic lunch to the park. You can spend days exploring this huge park, and just relax and enjoy the green space in the middle of the city. Hire a bike to get around if you want to explore further.

Mr and Mrs Romance - The Met rooftop in Central Park NYC

  • 9/11 Memorial – Explore downtown and pay your respects at the memorial. You must book online before you go.
  • Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge – get great views as you walk over the Brooklyn Bridge. Take the first exit off and walk back under the bridge back to the shore and go to Grimaldi’s for pizza. There’s always a queue but it’s worth the wait. It’s popular with locals and tourists alike.
    Then head down to DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Brooklyn Overpass) and take the East River Ferry back to Manhattan.
  • Explore Brooklyn – The ferry is a great way to visit Brooklyn. It goes from the bottom tip of Manhattan via Brooklyn & Williamsburg to Midtown (34th St). Brooklyn Flea is an amazing market on weekends. Smorgasburg is a food market on Saturdays at the Williamsburg ferry stop. SO GOOD. This is a must-do. On Sundays the market is a mix of vintage/craft and food. On Saturdays there’s also a bigger flea market at Fort Greene. Awesome shopping.

Mr and Mrs Romance - walking across the Brooklyn Bridge

  • Statue of Liberty – we didn’t visit Liberty Island as you need to book tickets in advance. Book them now before you go. I’ve heard you can give this a miss.
  • Staten Island Ferry – a free way to see the Statue of Liberty and which is quite fun. It’s a commuter ferry so don’t go at peak hour.
  • Broadway shows – you can buy cheap tickets on the day from the booths on the street. The top shows are only slightly discounted (if available) but other shows are up to 50% off. You can also buy online at Broadwaybox.com. Tuesday nights are best, it’s when locals go out.
  • Jazz – there are lots of great jazz bars in the city. It’s not Mr Romance’s thing but on my first trip I went to Dizzy’s at Columbus Circle. Press the button for jazz and go up to level 5. Best to book ahead – but you can just turn up on the night. It’s a smallish venue and it looks over Central Park.
  • Sail the Hudson at sunset – One of the most romantic things to do on a summer’s daybook here. Stop by Chelsea Market on the way to the yacht and pick up some lobster rolls for supper. Here’s a bit more about our cruise with more pics too: Romance in New York City – sailing the Hudson River.

Mr and Mrs Romance - sailing the Hudson at sunset NYC

Other places to go/things to do

Mr and Mrs Romance - explore the parks of NYC

Check out the squares:

  • Columbus Circle and Trump Tower – Broadway & Central Park W
  • Times Square (for a second) – Broadway & W42nd St (better at night)
  • General Worth Square (aka Madison Square Gardens) – Broadway & 23rd St
  • Union Square Park – Broadway & 14th St

Check out the parks:

  • Bryant Park – Behind NY Public Library between Avenue of the Americas and 5th Avenue (W 40th St) – lots of summer events including an outdoor cinema
  • Battery Park – southern tip of Manhattan
  • Washington Square Park – Southern end of 5th Avenue, Noho

Check out the buildings:

NYC Guide - things to do in New York

Celeb spotting

On Location Vacations tells you where TV shows and movies are filming in the city but you can spot them from the huge trailers parked in the side streets.

Celebs are everywhere, and you can spot them by looking for the people who are trying to look inconspicuous! Just keep your eyes open and you’ll see familiar faces in the most normal locations. Soho, Chelsea and the West Village are top spots. Also the Meatpacking district and East Village.

Shopping

Where to shop in New York City

Australians go crazy in American shops. Not only is the exchange rate in our favour at the moment, but the prices are lower and the choices are huge. So many places now offer shipping to Australia, but these are my picks if you fancy filling up an extra suitcase for your return trip (we bought an extra one at Century 21 and filled it, by the way!)

Great shops we don’t have in Australia

  • Anthropologie
  • BCBGMaxAzria
  • Kate Spade
  • J Crew
  • H&M
  • Uniqlo – best value cashmere jumpers and basics – it’s like a Japanese Zara
  • Zara is way better in the US too
  • Forever 21 (fast cheap young fashion but bargains you can’t ignore)
  • Sephora – my beauty superstore
  • MAC  - makeup is so much cheaper
  • Fishy eddys for cute and cheap homewares
  • ABC Kitchen – 7 levels of homewares

Gorgeous department stores:

  • Bloomingdales
  • Saks
  • Nordstrom’s
  • Bergdorf Goodman
  • Henri Bendel
  • Macy’s

Century 21 – discount department store and I mean serious discounts. But be prepared for crowds, elbows and stock everywhere.

Woodbury Commons Outlet Mall – If you really want to shop, get a bus out to the outlet mall in New Jersey. You can do this in half a day but most even those who hate to shop can spend a day here.

Also explore the Manhattan neighbourhoods like the West Village and Soho and head to Brooklyn and Williamsburg to shop at smaller boutiques.

Where to Eat in New York

Where to eat in New York - Mr and Mrs Romance

Eating is New York is so good! This is just a taste of some of the places we went to.

For most NYC restaurants you can make reservations through Open Table,  except for La Esquina, which is by phone or on its own website.

  • La Esquina - 114 Kenmare Street, Nolita – don’t be fooled by the café and taqueria, there’s a secret subterranean restaurant underneath.
  • Momofuku Ssam Bar - 207 2nd avenue, cnr East 13th – no bookings, just have a cocktail next door while you wait. Itls worth going to all of the Momofuku restaurants.
  • The Spotted Pig - 314 W. 11th Street (cnr Greenwich St), West Village –they do an awesome burger and brunch – Jay Z is one of the owners just so you know.
  • Extra Virgin - W. 4th St (near Perry St), West Village – amazing food and cosy atmosphere.
  • Street vendors – get a Philly cheese steak (careful, the hot sauce is just that!)
  • Whitman’s burgers – 406 E. 9th Street, East Village – try their Juicy Lucy.
  • The Shake Shack - Madison Square Park, Theatre District, Upper West Side, Battery Park, Upper East Side – Always a queue but it’s worth it.
  • Whole Foods – Everywhere, but the Columbus Circle store is incredible. Best supermarket ever.
  • Jack’s Wife Freda – 224 Lafayette St, Nolita – Fab breakfast and brunch.
  • Bouchon Bakery – Few locations around the city. Their salted caramel macarons are the best outside of Paris.
  • Balthazar - 80 Spring Street, Soho (between Broadway and Crosby) – Divine French bistro open from breakfast to late.
  • Union Square Coffee Shop - 29 Union Square West - Open 23 hours! Most of the wait staff are models too.
  • ABC Kitchen - 888 Broadway (between 18th and 19th Sts) - Gorgeous store and café, great for lunch.
  • Eataly – 200 5th Avenue (between 23rd and 24th Sts) - Shop and eat at the same time in this Italian food hall. Also check out the Birreria on the roof.
  • Cafe Cluny – Corner of W4th and W12th great brunch and cocktails
  • The Waverly Inn -‎ 16 Bank street (at Greenwich Avenue) cozy bar and restaurant
  • Tremont – 51 Bank St (at West 4th) great brunch and dinner
  • Joe Coffee – scattered all over the city, these places do good coffee! Thanks to our friend Declan from jettjacobs.com for the recommendation.

For more restaurant tips check out A Taste of Travel.

Where to drink in New York

Where to drink in New York - Mr and Mrs Romance

  • The Bar Room - 117 E. 60th Street, Upper East Side
  • Waldorf AstoriaPeacock Alley  -  301 Park Avenue
  • Le Bain on top of The Standard - 848 Washington at 13th Street, Meatpacking District
  • Dive bars in Nolita and Little Italy.
  • Gallow Green, McKittrick Hotel - 524 W. 27th Street, Chelsea (closed during autumn & winter)
  • Birreria above Eataly - 200 5th Avenue, Flatiron District
  • Beauty & Essex –  146 Essex St - Looks like a pawn shop but is really a very cool bar inside. The ladies’ bathroom even has its own champagne bar. We also ate here but you must book ahead
  • Employees Only - 510 Hudson St (between Christopher and W 10th St) – Look for the psychic and go through to find this very cool, hidden speakeasy
  • The Mermaid Oyster Bar -‎ 79 MacDougal St (at Houston) – Fab happy hour from 5-7pm
  • Ofrenda – 113 7th Avenue (at Christopher street) – Outdoor seating in summer for Happy Hour
  • Lure Fishbar in SoHo – 142 Mercer Street at Prince – Another good happy hour from 5-7pm

Where to stay in New York

  • Ace Hotel – 20 W 29th St, (at Broadway)
  • Soho House – 29–35 Ninth Ave, (at 13th St)
  • The Standard – 848 Washington St, (at W 13th St)
  • Wythe Hotel – 80 Wythe Ave, (at North 11th St)
  • The Plaza – 768 Fifth Ave, (at Central Park South)
  • Algonquin Hotel – 59 W 44th St , (between Fifth and Sixth Aves) ‎
  • Hotel Americano – 518 W 27th St, (between Tenth and Eleventh Aves)
  • Rent an apartment – Accommodation in New York is notoriously expensive so if staying for longer, consider renting an apartment. We love booking through Airbnb (last time we stayed in this apartment)

Wi-Fi

Just look for a Starbucks to find free Wi-Fi.  Yelp.com is a great app to help you find places on the go.

Ask a local

Our final tip is to talk to New Yorkers. They love to share their favourite parts of the city and will always have great advice for where to go.

Mr and Mrs Romance - Things to do in New York City

Thanks to The Blog StylistA Taste of Travel and Ms Critique for their invaluable travel advice. We wouldn’t have been able to write this list or have such an incredible time in the Big Apple without their travel tips.

PS. wear comfy shoes – you walk a lot in NYC x

What else would you add to our NYC list?

Images by Mrs Romance.

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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Sonia November 14, 2013 at 11:02 am

This post is so awesome, thanks so much for putting it together. It’s being bookmarked and will be re-read about 1000 times because we are planning to go to the US in early 2015 and NYC is one of our must visit cities!
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Mrs Romance November 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Thanks Sonia! It’s the longest post I’ve ever written but there’s just so much to NYC. We still have more to share and we’ll be writing more posts about our trip. You will LOVE New York x

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Bree November 14, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Ahhh… I want to go back! (And PS: Add Employees Only, West Village to the ‘Where to drink’ list :) )

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Mrs Romance November 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Thanks for showing me all the best bits of New York! Adding it right now, how could I forget?! xx

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Norlin November 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Oooh you’re making me miss NY so much! Loved it the moment I stepped off the plane! My favourite restaurant there was El Centro over at W 9th Ave, 54th Street. And I loved the French restaurant …gosh I can’t remember the name! But man there’s just so many great and good value restaurants in NY. Really would love to go back for a visit soon.
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Mrs Romance November 14, 2013 at 4:25 pm

I know what you mean Norlin! Man I love NYC. Writing this made me miss it even more x

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BabyMacBeth November 14, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Well THIS is awesome. Am linking to it in my post today x

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Mrs Romance November 14, 2013 at 4:24 pm

Thank you for sharing! x

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Julia November 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Thanks for making this post! I just moved to NYC and it’s really overwhelming all the options there are! I’d say my favourite cafe at the moment is Cafe Grumpy which has a few locations to choose from. The one in Chealsea is quaint and you can even sit in their back patio! My favourite place to eat so far is Bareburger, a local fresh and organic burger franchise that’s super satisfying. I hope to test out a few of the more common tourist-y things in the city, and I’m sure I’ll use your awesome guide!

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Mrs Romance November 14, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Hi Julia! Thanks for the great tips! I forgot to add in to go to Chelsea Market, great lobster rolls. I’ll add that in now too. Good luck with the move to NYC xx

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Katy @ SitDownMummy November 14, 2013 at 6:52 pm

Oh my I feel like you wrote this post just-for-me! VeggieMama just sent me the link. I am leaving my 2 year old twins at home with my mum in Jan and heading to NY with 2 girlfriends for 10 days. Crazy excited. Thanks so much for this fab overview. One more question, if you were me and heading out for a fancy night in NY with 3 x 30 year old girlfriends for dinner and cocktails… where would you go? Katy :)
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Mrs Romance November 14, 2013 at 11:41 pm

oh Katy, you’re going to have the best time! Ok, there really are lots of amazing places to go. La Esquina is so cool, or maybe Employees only. Balthazar is also amazing. Or Beauty & Essex. I’m not making it easier for you, am I? I would check out their websites and see which one you like the look of. You’ll love them all xx

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Denyse Gibbs November 15, 2013 at 12:59 am

Great article. Thank you so much. I am taking my daughter to NYC for Xmas to celebrate her finishing year 12. Would really appreciate any suggestion for somewhere nice to go for Xmas dinner. I wd probably need to book ahead I suspect.

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Mr Romance November 15, 2013 at 1:51 pm

Hi Denyse. That’s a tough one as the times we’ve been it’s been summer. The Plaza food hall is a pretty nice venue and I reckon they’d make the place look amazing. Or Balthazar – they’d do a pretty good job, I’d say. But yes, booking ahead’s a good idea. Don’t want to be traipsing around at Christmas looking for somewhere to eat.
Lovely idea though. Your daughter will love it!

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Sarah November 15, 2013 at 10:03 am

You confusingly wrote:
Avenues run vertically from right to left
Streets run horizontally from bottom (downtown) to top (uptown)

Horizontal means right to left. Vertical is up and down. Please correct your post.

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Mrs Romance November 15, 2013 at 2:00 pm

Hi Sarah, sorry for the confusion. I’m referring to the numbering of the Avenues and Streets. The Avenues run vertically, 1st Avenue is on the right and 12th Avenue is on the left. The Streets run horizontally and 1st Street is Downtown and they count up as you go Uptown. I’ve amended the post to clear this up. Thanks, Christina

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Christine November 15, 2013 at 2:34 pm

Wow, thank you so much for this amazing post – I luckily found it via the lovely Beth at BabyMac.
In 32 sleeps my husband, our 6 year old daughter and I are heading across the Pacific to spend 3 weeks in New York, celebrating our “40 + 10″ birthdays – I have been collating lots of information over the last couple of weeks that I have stored away over the years however your post beats everything.
Thank you for sharing,
Chrissy x

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Mrs Romance November 15, 2013 at 3:10 pm

oh thank you Chrissy, so glad you like our post! Your trip sounds amazing. Happy Birthday and I hope you have a fabulous time! Christina x

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Tony November 16, 2013 at 10:56 am

Great post guys! SO many great places to see and excellent tips. I’ll definitely be using this as my guide next time I’m lucky to visit the amazing NY!
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Mrs Romance November 16, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Thanks Tony! Hope you’re having a great time on your travels! xx

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Julie November 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm

The best place for breakfast: Sarabeth’s Central Park on 59th. Book for Sunday brunch and request a front window table. Great for people watching while eating pumpkin waffles, then just cross the road to walk them off in the Park.

NYC is terrific for walking, and there is always so much to see. The Subway is convenient if you need to travel a bit further (download a map and do some pre-planning).

Consider travelling a bit further afield – we love Amtrak for trips to Boston (especially for the baseball) or Washington. Amtrak trains leave from Penn station which is quite centrally located. Business class is only a few bucks more and is worth it with larger reserved seats.

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Mrs Romance November 17, 2013 at 8:49 pm

Thanks so much for your tips Julie! I love walking in NYC, there’s so much to see. Next trip we’re definitely going to venture out to Boston. I’m already planning our next trip…!

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Nikki @ Styling You November 18, 2013 at 12:21 pm

Awesome list … want to get on a plane now!
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Mr Romance November 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm

Book me a ticket while you’re at it, Nikki! Writing this made us both want to head back to NY too. Such a cool place!
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Steph @ Lipstick & Cake November 18, 2013 at 12:30 pm

LOVE IT! Hopefully back there very, very soon ;-)

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Mr Romance November 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm

You’ll be a lot closer than we are pretty soon, Steph, you lucky little pie eater! Wouldn’t it be cool if we could meet up while you’re there?! No, you’re right. Probably not. ;-)
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Georgia November 18, 2013 at 7:53 pm

Excellent tips! My only addition would be to get outside Manhattan and see Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx, if you can. (If you’ve only got time for one, go for Brooklyn!)

The Brooklyn Flea Market is amazing, if only I could’ve fit furniture in my suitcase…

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Mr Romance November 19, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Hi Georgia. I know what you mean. We wanted to explore more outside Manhattan but we just didn’t have enough time. It does give us a really good excuse to head back again though! I think that’s one of the problems with New York. You could stay in the same suburb all year round and still not see everything there.

We did buy a new suitcase from Century 21 just so we could carry on shopping. Thankfully a lot of airlines going to and from the US have better luggage allowance restrictions. We flew Delta (surprisingly good btw) and we were allowed two large suitcases each. Still not enough room for furniture though I suppose! :-)

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Mary J November 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm

Oh, I love this!! Babymac recommended I head this way, and what a great read!! I have been trying to convince Mr W that we need to have a few weeks on the East Coast of the big U.S of A – it being far too long since I had a fortnight in NYNY, and as for my Brit he’s never been there. Neither have Miss 6 and Master 4 – though that in a nutshell is probably the reason. It seems that it’s always London Calling and a very child friendly approach for us. One day though I shall put my foot down and book that trip.

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Mr Romance November 28, 2013 at 11:34 pm

Glad you enjoyed it, Mary J! We really enjoyed writing it. If you can, definitely get over there. I reckon late spring would be lovely over on NYC – when we were there in mid-summer, it was just a bit sweaty. Lost some of the glam.
It’s funny you should say your Brit hasn’t been there – it’s the first time for me too. I never really had much of an interest to go there. Australia had a much stronger pull. Quite annoying really, as New York was so much closer when I lived in England! Now we’ve got family all the way over the other side of the world, but we don’t want to keep spending our holidays in the same old place in the UK, we’ve started going somewhere we want to go in Europe and my folks meeting us there for a holiday themselves. Works brilliantly. I bet it’d be just as good if you did the same with the States.
Let us know if you need any more tips for places in America. :-)

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Bake Play Smile November 26, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Oh NYC is definitely at the top of my bucket list! I would love to have a white Christmas there one year! Thanks for your awesome guide!! xxx
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Mr Romance November 28, 2013 at 11:37 pm

Thank you Lucy! As you hopefully got from our post, we love NYC too! I’d love to go there in the depth of winter… but I think I need to train Mrs R in the way of layering to keep warm before she’d be happy with that kind of trip. She’s been burnt before in the English winter, so it’s not looking good!

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Declan Jacobs January 14, 2014 at 12:21 pm

Have you tried Joe the Art of Coffee…..being from melbourne we just lurve our coffee….@ Joes they really care & the coffee is amazing !!!

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Mr Romance January 14, 2014 at 3:32 pm

Hi Declan! No, we didn’t know about Joe the Art of Coffee. I’ve just checked out their website though – looks very cool. They’ve got quite a few shops throughout NYC, haven’t they? No idea why we didn’t spot them before. Have to try one next time we’re there.
Thanks for the tip. We’ll edit the post and pop in your recommendation. Always good for us coffee drinkers to have somewhere to go!
Jim

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Declan Jacobs January 14, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Have you also read the book by Sibella Court, its a Stylists Guide to NYC, we have also put some dy trips together……we could send you the word doc’s for you to upload?

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Mr Romance January 14, 2014 at 3:35 pm

Hi again Declan! Mrs Romance has heard of Sibella’s book, but we haven’t read it. Sounds very cool. We’ll have to check it out. By all means send us your day trips though. We’d love to check them out too!
Cheers
Jim

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CE Papas: the merrymaker sisters April 4, 2014 at 9:26 am

Aloha! Thank you so much for this great post all about NYC! We’re heading there in June for the first time ever and cannot wait! Your post (espesh the food list!) will be printed out as our itinerary :P heheh e + c
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Mr Romance April 4, 2014 at 10:26 am

Hey Emma, hey Carla
So glad you like our post. We love New York so much we had to cut out quite a bit from this post – we could basically go on forever about this city! We’re pretty sure you’re going to have the best ever time in NYC. And if you have any tips to add to our post, please do. There’s so much to do and see there!
Happy travels!
Jim and Christina x

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